I love adventure and in Alberta, thankfully, I’ve got (and you’ve got) lots of options for adventuring!
A go-to adventure spot for me is the beautiful Canmore, Banff/Lake Louise area, located about an hour drive from Calgary, and four hours from Edmonton. There are so many stunning mountains, different hikes you can take, bright blue-green glacial-fed lakes (and regular lakes) you can do any number of water activities in, biking trails to whip around on, plus lovely little local restaurants you can try and shops you can visit.
I tend to gravitate towards this area for adventure in particular because I have adventurous Canmore friends James and Ashleigh, who know all the best spots to take me! So that helps, lol. But if you don’t have locals to take you around, you can use my guides! You can even say, “my adventure friend Linda told me…”
This summer 2020 visit, James and Ashleigh are the ones who told me about a tree swing overlooking Johnson Lake in the Canadian Rocky Mountains! So we had to go!!
Keep scrollin’ for scenes from our water and swing adventure, travel advice for when you go, and if you’re going to be in the area anyway, be sure to check out some of my previous posts below:
- 7 Things To Do in Canmore & The Rocky Mountains
- Day Trip to Takakkaw Falls & Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park
- A Few Things To Do in Canmore, Alberta
- See all Canadian Rocky Mountain Travel Guides
Explore Banff National Park: A Swing and Paddle Adventure at Johnson Lake
Getting to Johnson Lake
Johnson Lake is located about 15 minutes (drive) east of Banff or about 25 minutes from Canmore. It is located inside Banff National Park so you will need a national park pass to access.
From Canmore / the Trans-Canada Highway you’d just turn to take Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive (instead of turning into Banff) then turn to Johnson Lake Rd. There are signs and it’s also clearly marked on Google Maps!
What you’ll find at Johnson Lake
At Johnson Lake, you’ll find picnic areas, a sandy beach, a 3.5 kilometre circuit (mostly flat) hike around the lake and of course, the beautiful lake itself! There’s a parking lot located right next to the lake, and there’s a rinse station for washing off your feet or water activity equipment before you leave.
You’ll find stunning mountain and forest views at Johnson Lake—like you’re completely enclosed in a picturesque Canadiana snow globe (but in the summer lol). The water is also really nice (though not that famous Rocky Mountain teal blue-green colour that is a result of glacial-fed lakes—Johnson Lake is not glacial-fed). But that means it’s not as cold too, so swimming or dipping your feet in is really lovely.
From Johnson Lake you’ll be able to see Cascade Mountain and Rundle Mountain, and also see the Canmore range of mountains (Three Sisters, Ha Ling) in the distance as well. It’s super scenic and a popular area for swimming, paddling, floating and other water activities.
Getting to the Johnson Lake Rocky Mountain Swing and Rope
Johnson Lake is home to actually two swinging things—a sitting swing and a rope swing!
You can walk or paddle out to both. Because the hike around the lake is a circuit, walking just over 1 km around either the north end or the south end will take you to either swinging apparatus. The sitting swing is situated higher above the lake on the north end, and the rope swing is located on the southern side of the lake, which you can use to jump right into the lake!
We saw people using the rope swing and splashing into the water while we paddled our way to the sitting swing on the north side of the lake. In hindsight, I think it would have been a better experience to visit both, or just the rope swing because splashing into water while you’re mid-air holding a rope swing is definitely more fun (lol!) So I would recommend you plan to do both! They’re both quite easy to get to.
If you’re walking, the hike starts immediately to your left as you walk towards the lake from the parking lot. Go around the sandy beach (right) if you you want to go around to the southern side of the lake for the rope swing.
If you have the equipment, paddling out to the swings is a wonderful way to get out to there and also enjoy the lake!! We used inflatable paddle boards, kayak, and pack raft during our adventure at Johnson Lake. The water is quite calm and it was nice to take our time in the water (taking photos on the water of course) before getting to the swing as well.
Here are some more photos from our visit to the sitting swing (you can stand on it too lol)
If you take the water route to the sitting swing you do have to walk up a bit of a steep hill to get to it (but it’s not really that steep) but good grippy shoes would be recommended.
Check out my 15 second video showing some scenes from the paddle + swing!
You can walk or paddle to the Johnson Lake swing in Banff National Park Alberta 🥰 See my blog for more travel guides! ☺️ @dukiesmom ##explorealberta
Tips for your Johnson Lake Adventure
- Go at off-peak hours to avoid crowds. We chose to adventure at Johnson Lake in the evening (around 7 p.m. to sunset) because we figured that would be a good way to avoid crowds—and we were right! There were maybe 8 people in total on the entire lake including us, and maybe a few more people on the sandy beach and picnic area. It was super physically distant, but someone did tell me they were at the lake just hours before and it was “mayhem.” Keeping in mind this was also the Friday of the August Long Weekend (2020), so it would naturally be busier during this time. So if you;’re planning a trip, maybe don’t plan it for one of the busiest weekends in Banff National Park, or just go in the last few hours before sunset. It helps that our Alberta summer sunsets don’t happen until 9:30 p.m., so you can still have lots of good light for your water adventure, while avoiding crowds, if you go later in the day.
- Be safe and bring along a life jacket. Had we done the rope swing and jumped into the water, I would have worn a life jacket for sure, lol. I’m not a strong swimmer so I happily wear lifejackets if I’m going into water situations. You’ll notice I did not wear my lifejacket in the raft, because the water was so calm I really wasn’t concerned about falling in, but the lifejacket was still in close proximity in case I needed it! Even on a paddle board I feel a lot more confident with a life jacket on. It’s cool to be safe, lol. Just bring what you need to be safe so you can continue to have more fun mountain adventures!
- Plan extra hours so you can hike, picnic AND enjoy the water. We only focused on the water activities but it would have been nice to take the fairly flat circuit hike at Johnson Lake too. From the water we saw a lot of elk gathering along the hiking trail so you may see some wildlife, and you’ll also see lots of interesting flora and fauna in the forest! Pack lunch, dinner, or snacks and take advantage of the picnic tables, a sandy beach spot, or make your own seating area overlooking the water along the trail. If you don’t have water floating devices, inflatable kayaks, rafts, paddle boards have become increasingly popular over the years and is really easy to set up and lug around. Would highly recommend!
- Bring towels and a change of clothes (plan to get wet!) It was SO nice to go swimming at Johnson Lake after our paddling adventure. The water is a really nice cool temperature (but not icy cold, like in some of the glacial-fed lakes). So plan to go for a little swim and bring towels to dry off and a change of clothes so you don’t need to drive back wet.
- Rinse off at the rinse station, especially if you’ll be visiting other bodies of water. There is a rinse station at Johnson Lake (in the parking lot) which it’s recommended you use to rinse off yourself and any water equipment you bring along, ESPECIALLY if you are planning to visit other bodies of water in the area. Rinsing off will help ensure something called Whirling disease isn’t passed on to other bodies of water, and affect other fish. In 2019, Johnson Lake actually had to be drained to try and get rid of whirling disease that had affected the fish population. So sad.
I may do one more blog post Canmore/Banff National Park adventure guide from this particular visit (August 2020) so stay tuned for more ideas on how you can enjoy one of the most beautiful regions in the WORLD, but in the meantime, check out my old Canmore / Banff travel guides for ideas to help you plan your trip: